by Dennis Dalman
Nothing can prepare oneself for death, according to poet Mark Conway of Avon.
Conway is the director of the Literary Arts Institute at the College of St. Benedict. He has just been honored with a prestigious McKnight Artist Fellowship Award.
Like most poets, Conway has been pondering death and wrestling with death for years, especially in his acclaimed book of poetry, “Dreaming Man, Face Down,” which he felt compelled to write because of the loss of some family members.
The poems, Conway said, are part of an effort to examine mortality and how death is part of life – how people who have died continue to inform and influence the living, not as ghosts but as integral parts of who the living people are and what motivates them.
Here is an excerpt from a review of the book, by poet/critic Nick Flynn:
“Mark Conway is offering us a long letter to the death, an appeal for a connection beyond the grave . . . In poem after remarkable poem, Conway – at once sublime and profane – conjures, resurrects, cajoles, addresses, pleads with, and finally accepts a lost (or imagined?) brother. Heaven is invoked, redemption sought and rejected. We are all lost, these poems remind us, and yet ‘How beautiful was the city of the living this afternoon . . . ‘ “
“Dreaming Man, Face Down” was a major reason why Conway won a McKnight Award. The book also won the American Poetry Journal Book Prize for 2009. Conway’s other collection of poems is a 2007 book entitled “Any Holy City,” which also garnered high praise from readers, critics and fellow poets.
Conway has also written many uncollected poems that have been published in poetry magazines far and wide. He will soon depart for poetry readings of his work in Ireland.
Conway will be honored during a reading/reception May 19 at Target Performance Hall in Minneapolis. Three other Minnesota poets also earned McKnight Awards for 2012: Amy McCann, Jude Nutter and Matt Rasmussen. Lauren Stringer was honored in the field of Children’s Literature.
The McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers awards are sponsored by The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, which aims to support artistic development of writers, to foster a writing community and to encourage audiences for literature.
“It felt great,” Conway said about getting the award. “It was out of the blue; I wasn’t thinking about it.”
Conway has been director of the Literary Arts Institute at CSB for 15 years. Born in St. Paul, he graduated from Cathedral High School in St. Cloud in 1970 and earned a humanities degree from St. John’s University before earning a master’s degree in teaching from the College of St. Thomas. He has taught in southern Minnesota and places as far away as British Columbia, Canada and Rome.
Some of his favorite poets are T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and contemporaries such as Seamus Heaney, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass and Marie Howe.
Conway chose one of his more recent poems to share with Newsleader readers. The poem was previously published in “Ploughshares” poetry magazine.
in the blizzard
the horses are filthy in their winter coats
grubby and matted
manes mended with hay
they flicker between snows like medieval orders
of spiritual pilgrims: seen
and invisible –
unseen and real
the blizzard continues and the world is the wind
your eyes close to slits
inside the drift and the howl
the horses aren’t yours/not even broken to ride
still they help you get home
as you look into the wind
but whiteness ahead
with them dark inside